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Humanists UK calls on Government to put schools at the heart of their integration strategy

‘The education system is the best tool we have to promote integration, but it is not being used nearly as effectively as it ought to be’, Humanists UK has told the UK Government.

Responding to a consultation on the Integrated Communities Strategy green paper, published in March, Humanists UK says that continued support for faith schools that divide children along religious and ethnic lines has no place in an integration strategy and must be urgently be withdrawn. The response also covers a range of issues related to integration in England and Wales, including the challenges faced by minorities such as apostates and LGBT people within closed religious communities, the segregation of girls and boys in schools, and the importance of religious education.

The green paper was issued in response to the review published by Dame Louise Casey in 2016, which criticised the growing segregation within the education system and local communities in Britain. Highlights of Humanists UK’s response include:

Education

  • On the divisive role played by state faith schools: ‘Schools are one of the few remaining institutions, public or private, where people from a range of different backgrounds come together en masse, regularly and for prolonged periods of time… [However], when faith schools use faith-based admissions criteria to select their pupils, children and families are segregated along religious, ethnic, and socio-economic lines’.
  • On the value of Religious Education: ‘RE is the subject in the school curriculum that is best placed to deliver exactly what the Government wants to see of its education system. Good RE prepares children to live in a modern, diverse society, promoting mutual understanding and respect between people of all backgrounds and with all beliefs. Moreover, it gives children and young people a crucial grounding in the beliefs, practices, and traditions that make up our cultural heritage, emphasising both our shared heritage and our shared values. RE of this nature ought to be at the heart of the Government’s plans for the education system’s contribution to integration, not omitted from them entirely.’
  • On illegal faith schools: the children trapped within these settings are neither integrated with wider society nor prepared to live in it even if they were… we urge the Government to bring forward [proposals to crackdown on these schools] as soon as possible.’

Marriage

The green paper expresses concern that many women in certain religious communities are not aware that judgments from religious courts are not legally recognised and therefore do not afford women important legal protections like the right to divorce or standing in custody disputes. While accepting the need for reform, Humanists UK states:

‘We would be concerned if the law were to change to make it so that any religious weddings must be accompanied by a legal marriage. Couples may have perfectly legitimate reasons for wanting to have a symbolic wedding ceremony only that is not recognised by the law, and may be fully aware of the implications of doing so. For such couples, forcing them to have a legal marriage may well be a denial of their freedom of religion or belief.’

Humanists UK’s response also calls for the Government to finally give legal recognition to humanist marriage, ending the discrimination against the non-religious that currently exists in English and Welsh marriage law.

Empowering women and girls

Humanists UK has welcomed the Government’s assertion that ‘respect for faith communities’ cannot extend to turning a blind eye ‘if women and girls are denied their right to education’. In its response, Humanists UK notes that ‘too many girls continue to be held back by the education provided to them in some faith schools’, and urges the Government to close down any school found to be teaching ‘a discriminatory or gender stereotyped curriculum to girls (or indeed to boys).’

Apostasy

The response also highlights the particular challenges faced by apostates in the UK, who often struggle to integrate in society after leaving their respective religious communities. Humanists UK, which runs Faith to Faithless, the support network in the UK for apostates, states that ‘the integrated communities strategy should recognise both apostates and those living in isolated religious groups as particularly vulnerable’:

‘These individuals, especially those who are forced to leave their very closed religious communities, face particular challenges, and often have to cut off all contact with their families and communities before entering a wider society that they are grossly unprepared to exist in. The need for tailored plans and interventions for these individuals, who make up a significant minority in every religious group, is clearly important.’

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented, ‘The points we are making today are those we made to Sajid Javid when we met with him earlier this year. We were pleased on that occasion to hear support from him for many of our positions and hope that our submission today will give further weight to these concerns within government.

‘The Government’s integration strategy is admirable in its ambition, and we particularly welcome its emphasis on challenging the cultures, practices, and ideologies that frustrate integration and cohesion in society. However, there is one significant area that is not given nearly enough attention, namely that the Government must also challenge the divisive role played by faith schools.

‘Integration can only go so far while children are being defined and divided on the basis of religion at such a young age. Schools should be the beating heart of the Government’s integration strategy but unfortunately that is not currently the case.’

Notes

For further comment or information please contact Humanists UK Campaigns Officer Rachel Taggart-Ryan on rachel@humanism.org.uk or 0207 324 3065.

Read Humanists UK’s full response: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018-05-14-Integrated-Communities-Strategy-consultation.pdf

Read Humanists UK’s previous comment on the integration strategy: https://humanism.org.uk/2018/03/14/humanists-uk-comment-government-integration-strategy/

Read the full green paper: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/integrated-communities-strategy-green-paper

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